The NBA has turned into a positionless league. Undersized players are beginning to guard all five positions while big men can step out and shoot the three with ease.
Winning in the NBA today requires two things. First, high-quality shooting ability. Second, championship-level teams must have a superstar to take over the game at the end. This is where the small forward comes into play.
Historically, the small forward position has been stacked. From Larry Bird to Scottie Pippen to Julius Erving, there have always been dynamic players at this position. In today’s game, point guards seem to get the most attention, but the small forward position may be at an all-time high.
Here are the top five small forwards in the NBA today.
5. Jimmy Butler
Butler is one of many on this list who will be playing for a new team next season. He started his career in Chicago, and built a reputation of being a scorer.
His final season as a Bull saw him average 23.9 points per game. Butler then played 69 games in Minnesota before being shipped to Philadelphia. He averaged 18.2 points per game with the Sixers as their season ended in the second round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Next season, Butler will take his talents to South Beach. The Sixers traded him to the Heat where he plans to stay long-term. Butler is a true two-way player. He has been named All-Defensive Second Team four times. Butler has been All-NBA Third Team twice while winning the Most Improved Player Award in 2015. For his career, Butler is averaging 16.7 points per game.
During his time in Minnesota, Butler was pegged as a locker room problem. Even though he played just 69 games with the Timberwolves, it felt like he was there for years. In Philly, those accusations were shut down as he became a leader on the team.
Butler has gone from being the last pick in the first round to becoming one of the best players in the game.
4. Paul George
There are not many lists where George will come in ranked fourth, but that just shows how strong small forwards are today.
George had a career year in 2018-2019 for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged the most points of his career with 28, most rebounds with 8.2, and most steals with 2.2 per game. George also tied his career-high with 4.1 assists per game. This impressive season finished with him being in the top three for the MVP award.
George is one of the best stories in the NBA. In August 2014, George suffered a gruesome leg injury that had people wondering if he would ever play again. Well, he recovered and is only getting better. George improved his scoring drastically this season. His previous career-high was 23.7 points per game.
He has been named to an All-NBA team five times while being a four-time All-Defensive player. George will stay in the Western Conference next season.
He was traded from Oklahoma City to the Los Angeles Clippers where he will be one half of a dynamic duo.
3. Kawhi Leonard
All NBA talk today is centered around debating who the best player is, and it is always short-sighted.
Let’s pump the brakes on Leonard taking over as the league’s top player. He is a top-five player in the NBA, but has not reached the No. 1 spot yet. With that being said, he was the best player in the postseason. Leonard averaged 30.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game while shooting 49% from the field during the Toronto Raptors championship run. He was named Finals’ MVP after he led the Raptors past a depleted Golden State Warriors’ team.
The Raptors took a chance on Leonard after he played just nine games for the San Antonio Spurs in 2017-2018. Toronto got the ultimate return on their investment. Leonard averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He proved to still be one of the best defenders in the game averaging 1.8 steals per game. Leonard is now a two-time NBA Champion and a two-time Finals’ MVP. He has won one in each conference.
Leonard will join George in Los Angeles as a member of the Clippers next season. He made it clear that he wanted to play with another star when signing with the Clippers.
Leonard has the chance in upcoming years to add to his already impressive resume.
2. Kevin Durant
Durant might be the best scorer that has ever played in the NBA. When he signed with the Warriors, he received endless criticism for selling out. It turns out that Durant joined the Warriors and completely took over the team.
He averaged 25.8 points over three years, won two championships, and was named Finals’ MVP twice. If he did not get hurt in the NBA Finals this season, he would be a three-time champion with three Finals’ MVP awards.
A devastating Achilles injury kept Durant out of the Finals and will force him to miss at least the beginning of next season. Despite his injury, Durant comes in second on this list. He was named MVP in 2014 after averaging 32 points per game. Durant has led the league in scoring four times, has been named All-NBA First Team six times, and All-NBA Second Team three times. He is a 10-time All-Star with two All-Star Game MVPs.
There is nothing left for Durant to prove, and that was his attitude in Golden State. When talking about the best scorers to ever play the game, Durant is the first name out of anyone’s mouth.
He will team up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn when he returns from his injury.
1. LeBron James
Yes, James is still the best small forward in basketball. Yes, James is still the best player on the planet. It is impossible to take the throne from the King after just one season. James was limited to just 55 games this season because of a groin injury. In those games, he averaged 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 7.4 assists. That is considered a down year for James.
This is a player who changed basketball forever. He is put in the same sentence with Michael Jordan on a daily basis. James is a four-time league MVP, a three-time Finals’ MVP, All-NBA First Team 12 times, and All-Defensive First Team five times.
He is a 15-time All-Star who did the impossible by bringing a championship to Cleveland. And he did it by coming back from a 3-1 deficit against a team that finished the regular season 73-9.
There was plenty of drama surrounding James during his first season in Los Angeles, and rightfully so. However, this does not dismiss the fact that James is still the best player on the planet.
It will take more than just one season for someone to climb over James.